|7th Avenue and 124th Street (1959)|
Location: 7th Avenue (Harlem), New York, New York, USA
In the Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures (2000), Bonnie Zimmerman says the following about the Wellsworth:
Public bar life was not as prominent in African American lesbian communities as it was for working-class white lesbians. In part, this was because, until the late 1960s, there were few bars or clubs that welcomed African American lesbian patronage. Most white lesbian bars were either alienating or notoriously racist. Few African American lesbians had the capital or political connections to have their own liquor licenses and establish their own bars. There were, however, some clubs that catered solely to African American lesbians at separate times or in separate spaces. In the 1950s, for example, the Wellsworth in Harlem was a straight bar in front and a lesbian bar in back. Yet bars carried the risk of legal trouble, public exposure and harassment from straight men, so many women avoided them.
This spatial arrangement at the Wellsworth is one we have seen at a number of lesbian bars from that era. Other examples where lesbians were pushed to the back room include the Palais in Detroit and the Goldenrod Inn in New Orleans.
In a "Praise-Poem Collage" by Winnie Williams, we also see brief mention of the Wellsworth. The piece is entitled "An Autumn Memoir: Of Adam and Sunday Strolls in Mid-Century Harlem" and was published in The Crisis in February 1983:
Looking east or west, long blocks of neat, brownstone homes;
Down seventh: drug stores, pawn shops, tailors, and small eateries.
We'd pass by Wellsworth's meeting/greeting Lounge
with its "Ladies Entrance" for the "gentler" sex.
We've posted on ladies entrances before, which were side doors, typically into a restaurant or tavern, that were intended for use by women patrons. Their expressed purpose was to allow women access to the ladies cafe/restaurant or dining room without having to pass through the male-dominated "regular" eating/drinking area.
I have not seen a ladies entrance explicitly attached to a lesbian bar before. But I think there is increasing evidence that these ladies entrances and the safe passageway they provided into ladies cafes and the like were, at minimum, important predecessors to lesbian space as such. For example, Elise Chenier has documented how the old "ladies and escorts room" at Toronto's Hotel Rideau had developed into a lesbian socializing space by the 1950s.